By Ray Petersen — Oman certainly is an international and very cosmopolitan country now, as professionals, academics, domestics and labourers from around the world converge on the Sultanate. Some come for a better life, and maybe the hope of providing for a distant family. Some, it must be said, in highly paid positions of responsibility, who usually seek such positions as pathways to similar positions in even more affluent and populous countries. Some, a few, come for the lifestyle, for the sun on their backs, a nice safe environment, and maybe even its proximity to the hurly-burly of Dubai. Yet others, as the ‘last throw of the dice,’ come to escape misery and/or deprivation. All societies today are built on a diversity of facts, fantasies, and no few fairy tales.
We all come for our own reasons, but we all bring something with us. It may be evident in our clothing and apparel, the way we dress, how we speak or act, our voices and accents are often dead giveaways! I can’t account for how many times I’ve been ‘accused’ of being an Australian though! The greatest certainty though, is that we bring our own cultures, our ways of doing things, our manners and tolerances, and our levels of respect for others.
Facts are truths, and cannot be contradicted. Fantasies, on the other hand, are defined in the Oxford Dictionary as, “situations that are not true, only imagined.” Finally fairy tales are stories that will always have a happy ending! Every day we, or more correctly you, may well be exposed to these absorbing realms, and many in between, as you seek to retain what makes you who you are, and that person that others see, and uncomfortably, sometimes do not see.
Every day, Oman provides you with opportunities for discovering more about those around you, and in doing so, to discover a great deal about yourself. What you do with those discoveries is entirely and completely up to you, as cultural awareness cannot be taught, only learned, and while your cultural competency may be tested and assessed by others, intentionally or otherwise, your awareness and competency are matters that can only be addressed and developed, by yourself.
In this environment particularly, there is a need for us all to learn from the exposure to a wide spectrum of nationalities, cultures, religions and languages, each bringing its own peculiarities and demands. The apprehensions of many are often not as a result of any neglect, racism, or prejudice, but in fact, of fear of the unknown, which has haunted man since time immemorial.
Complete this quote by Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, who died 2,334 years ago, “the deepest need of the human soul is to be… ” So… What’s the missing word? “Loved? Treasured? Respected? Wanted? Needed? Sheltered? Free? Appreciated? Valued? Few people will actually complete the quote correctly, because we will all seek, in the answer, something we value, rather than thinking about those others we don’t know and what they might need. The answer, of course, for those of you with smart phones, is “understood.” And if you think about it, it’s our lack of understanding of others that often puts us in a position of feeling threatened, which is in turn at the heart of most cultural insensitivity.
At your workplace, how do you treat each other? How do you get on with each other? Do you talk to each other? Do you share special occasions? Do you know what they mean? What do you know about others, what do they know about you, and what do you know about you? There are no pass or fail scenarios here, and mainly because I don’t have all of the answers. But I do seek to awaken a level of awareness, of the culture, history, circumstances, and sometimes the plight, of those around you.
I’m no great example of cultural sensitivity, but now and again the fact that I have questioned my own foibles has led me to a form of situational awareness, and though that certainly doesn’t make me a saint, it does invest me with just a teensy-weensy little bit of consideration, and that’s often all we need to grant someone else the same amount of respect or understanding they are due, and need.
Let’s face facts! We are not all tree hugging, dolphin stroking, vegetarian, global warming, do-gooders, and we aren’t going to change the world. But, if we can change one person’s day for the better, we’re doing pretty well aren’t we? Cultural competency, cultural awareness, whatever we call it, can’t be achieved without at least a cursory consideration of the individual qualities you possess, knowing how you ensure that others see you as you are, and then applying those exact same considerations to them.
However, showing a bit of understanding? That’s fairly easily done, it costs only a little time, a nod, a smile, or a gesture.
How hard can it be ay? Change someone’s day for the better, today.